A report by guest Alan Pickering of the SA 4WD & Touring Club: Traditionally, the Jackaroo 4wd Club of Victoria run a trip over the first weekend in October every year, to visit the Little Desert National Park and surrounding area. The wildflowers at this time are usually at their best. Members of the NSW Jackaroo 4wd Club and the SA 4WD & Touring Club are always invited to come along too. With Covid-19 travel restrictions removed at last, the 2022 trip was the first return to the Little Desert since 2019. Thirty two people in seventeen vehicles took part in the weekend’s activities. The Serviceton Recreation Reserve, located one and half kilometres south of Serviceton, was where we camped. There are eight powered sites in the main area, with another two general power outlets accessible from the amenities block and water pump. As it was a base camp, people could arrive and leave on the days that suited them. Some early birds arrived on the Thursday and a few late leavers stayed until Tuesday. Four trips were on offer, namely:
Nhill Historic tour
Kaniva Silo Art
Mt Moffat area
There was also a tour of the Serviceton railway station on the Sunday. Given the number of vehicles involved, people were rotated through the trips, allowing six vehicles in any one convoy. It was all very free and easy, with individuals able to choose what they wanted to do and when. This made a nice change from normal tours, where you are on the road most days travelling on an itinerary. Happy Hours were held around a campfire on all nights, except Saturday when we had a group dinner at the Woolshed Inn in Bordertown. The sunsets were stunning, keeping some of us at the campfire well into the gloaming. Weatherwise, there was no rain and the days just got better and better. The early days of overcast cloud improved to blue skies and plenty of sunshine.
The drives were pretty, with bright yellow canola crops interspersed with green wheat and darker green broad beans. We were told, this area of Victoria grows the bulk of the broad beans grown in Australia. It’s been such a wet year, the wheat crop had to be crop dusted for rust. On Saturday, we were treated to a display of low flying by a crop duster in the fields around the campsite. Roger Hall explained, GPS guidance enables crop dusting to be perfectly applied these days. The wet, cold year also meant the wildflowers, especially the orchids, were not yet in abundance. Our Victorian friends, who have been regular attendees on these weekends for thirty years, were able to point out:
Purple waxlip orchids
Fire orchids (or were they Running Postman)
Fringe Myrtle was in abundance in most areas,
while south of Mt Moffat, there was Pink Heath.
In terms of four-wheel driving, the sand was generally firm, with some sections of the tracks holding water in mud holes. Once we determined the ground was firm at the bottom of these holes, we started to drive straight through, albeit with a little caution. (Note: I am speaking for myself here) Mt Moffat was a highlight. Its summit was a good lunch spot. It provided 360° views over the never-ending mallee scrub and in the sun, was perfect. The steep sand track off the top, down to the floor of the park, provided a bit of a challenge for drivers. At the other end of the scale, height wise, was Broughton’s Waterhole, located just off the McDonald Highway. This was a delightful camp area around a large waterhole, about the size of a football oval. Perfect for a break after we had climbed the nearby Mt Turner. As previously stated, the program was free and easy.
On Sunday afternoon, after a visit to the Serviceton railway station, Alyson and I made our way to Nhill to visit the ex-RAAF base, which is only open on Sundays. After a guided tour of the hangar and its three planes, many photographs and displays, we left and crossed the highway to find the target bombing range. We completed a round trip with a drive through the park and back roads to camp. While we did our trip, others ventured back to Mt Moffat to play in the sand and mud holes. The Serviceton Recreation Reserve is no longer used for football, or cricket. However, its facilities are available in the old pavilion for use by campers. Although the showers and toilets are basic, they are well maintained and kept to a high standard by a shrinking band of local helpers. While we were there, the toilets and showers were refreshed daily. A big thank you to these volunteers.
In summary, the weekend was a great little break. Everyone was in good spirits, with much friendliness within the whole group. The weather was good to superb and the trips interesting and enjoyable. Full marks to Alan Dash and the Jackaroo 4wd Club of Victoria for making all the arrangements and to everyone who participated so well.
We arrived at Serviceton late Wednesday afternoon and set up camp. Thursday morning, we accompanied Alan on some pre-trip planning, which started with a coffee at a little bakery in Bordertown. From there, we headed out to the Olivalle Estate Olive Farm at Telopea Downs to make arrangements for a guided tour. After lunch, we started to work our way towards the Rocky Lamattina & Sons carrot farm, again to arrange a tour time. Along the way, we checked out a couple of wildflower locations. Following a couple of weeks of rain, we found a good variety of native flowers, particularly native orchids. These included Donkey, various Spider and a number of coloured Sun orchids.
Before returning to Serviceton, we called in to the Frances pub to ensure arrangements for Saturday afternoon were in place. On arriving back at Serviceton, we found quite a few other people had arrived and set up. Later that evening, one of the other travellers produced a couple of radio controlled models. One was a truck prime mover and the other was a fully operational front end loader.
It was interesting to note that the loader was fully functional, including lights and hydraulics. A demonstration showed it could move earth.
Friday 29th 2017
On Friday morning, we initially headed into Bordertown for a caffeine and cake hit. On leaving Bordertown, we headed east on the highway, then turned north on to the Serviceton – North Telopea Downs Road.
When we arrived at the Olivalle Estate Olive Farm, we were greeted by the Manager, who gave us an excellent guided tour of the orchards and their processing plant. This tour unfortunately dispelled any romantic notions I had of traditional olive farming methods.
The trees are planted in rows at precise distances apart. They are pruned to ensure automatic harvesting equipment can run up and down the rows to maximise the collection of olives.
This machinery is based on grape harvesting equipment and slightly modified by the Manager to suit the olive crop. Our tour then took us to the mixing area where the underground water supply is treated to remove unwanted materials, especially salt. It is then enhanced with fertilisers and minerals. Bulk chemicals are placed into mixing vats and then diluted to a usable concentration. It is then dosed into the water supply and fed to the trees as required. After washing, the olives are pressed in bright shiny stainless steel tanks and then filtered. The extra virgin oil is then stored in 20,000 litre tanks. The bulk of the oil is then on sold to larger companies, such as Cobram Estates. They also bottle their oil for local sales outlets under the Olivalle Estate label. After lunch on a hill overlooking the estate, we headed south towards Kaniva. We crossed the highway and drove down the Kaniva – Edenhope Road to the Lamattina carrot farm. This is one of two, 6,000 hectare properties, which supply major supermarkets, such as Woolworths. The carrot seeds are imported from France and sown at the rate of one million seeds per hectare. Rows are prepared using GPS and laser equipment and, prior to planting the seeds, grasses are grown in adjacent rows to reduce erosion by wind and to protect the carrot tops as they develop.
The seeds are sown using specialised equipment at a defined distance apart. Carrots are grown in one out of every three years. In the other years, crops are grown which can be ploughed back to replace nutrients and goodness to the soil. One of the largest pest problems they encounter are feral deer. Once the carrots are harvested, they are placed into trucks and transported to the company’s processing plant. Here they are cleaned then spray chilled before being packed and forwarded to the supermarket distribution centres. They aim to have the carrots in these distribution centres within twenty four hours of picking.
Saturday 30th 2017
On the previous days, we had established that, despite the recent cooler weather and rain, there had been enough sun to bring out a large variety of wildflowers and orchids. In a number of places along some of the tracks, there were just carpets of colour. So today we were to check these out. Some diehard football fans elected to stay at camp and head to the Frances Hotel later to watch the AFL Grand Final. The remainder of the group headed to Kaniva for the usual morning dose of caffeine before heading into the Desert. Suitably refreshed, we headed down Yanipy Road, into Three Chain Road and on to Miram South Road. Along the way, we stopped to look at and photograph wildflowers along the roadside.
During this drive, we also found a couple of little spots where we could have a bit of fun in four wheel drive. After lunch, a few more footy fans left the convoy and headed off to the Frances Hotel. The rest of us headed down Edenhope Road and on to East West Track. Here we split into two groups, as some of us wanted to tackle the Mt Moffat Track. The others followed Alan out of the desert on an “easy short cut”. We knew this area would be a bit damp in places and were not disappointed.
Several interesting bog holes were negotiated satisfactorily. Greg found a very soft patch and needed to work a little harder to get back on to a sound surface.
A little further on, we appeared to run out of track, as it headed into the fringe of a swamp. Johan was kind enough to get out, take his shoes and socks off and walk the track so we could satisfy ourselves it was okay to negotiate.
Two alarmed ducks managed to startle Johan, who moved faster than the ducks as they took off.
We negotiated a stretch of water around eighty metres long and up to fifty centimetres deep. From here it was an easy drive into Frances to watch the end of the footy, before sitting down to a nice dinner at the hotel.
Sunday 1st October 2017
Sunday morning we headed down Serviceton South Road and on to Mt Moffat Track looking at wildflowers. After a walk to Mt Moffat, we continued down Elliots Track and found more wildflowers.
While we were here, we were lucky enough to have a pair of Red Tail Black Cockatoos fly overhead. A short stop at Moree Reserve on the Tallegeira Track followed, after which we drove back to camp. Some had started to pack up and head home, while others were able to have a quiet afternoon before departure on Monday morning. Many thanks to Alan for sharing his extensive knowledge of this area and again making for a very enjoyable Little Desert long weekend.
Barry & Linda McElhenny (Trip Leaders)
Ian & Ann Marr
Cleve Warring & Jenny Hajncl
Lucie, Ken & Gemma
Leigh Wagstaff & Christine Mayer
Linda McElhenny reports:
27th June 8.28am 8 degrees
Lovely dark cloudy morning – not good for travelling. Oh well, we are heading for warmer weather.
Barry decided to check the Tvan brakes after we had driven for about one hour. All good. On our way to Walpeup, our first stopover, we had a few stops for further checks on the brakes. Yet when we arrived at 3.00pm, the passenger side was red hot, even the rim. Barry waited until the tyre and hub had cooled down, then checked and readjusted the brakes.
We were camped in a little local park with a toilet block, shower and laundry facilities for $9.00 per night. We put our money in the locked box on the wall of the amenities block and noticed it appeared to be empty although there were three other campers there when we arrived and more came later. Just before dark, a lovely lady came over and said that she was the camp supervisor. We told her that we had put our money in the box and that if she looked, that would be all that was there. She said not to worry.
28th June 9.15am 8 degrees
We are off to Hallett today to meet up with Ian, Ann, Cleve and Jenny.
During the day we had a few stops to check the brakes. Barry decided to find a concrete pad to dismantle the brakes fully and start from scratch again. We spotted a large wheat silo on the other side of the railway line and, yes, it had a concrete pad. To make sure we didn’t leave any grease, etc on the concrete, we put a tarp down. After all, this is a place where grain is stored.
Luckily the sun was out by now, but the wind was still very chilly. We must have been there about 15 minutes, when a HiLux ute came zooming down the road and went over to a small building opposite where we were. As there were signs everywhere that “Trespassers would be prosecuted”, we thought we might be asked to leave. What do you do when you have your Tvan jacked up and the wheel off?
The ute finally drove off. I bet he was watching us from the corner of the building.
What’s with these brakes
Barry cleaned down everything yet again and re-greased all that was necessary. He even put in a new bearing, even though the other one was new. With the wheel back on and everything cleaned up, we were on our way again.
By the time we reached Hallett, it was dark. We received a warm welcome from Ian, Ann, Cleve and Jenny, who were just building the camp fire. We set up camp, had dinner and the men then had another look at the brake. All were at a loss as to what was wrong. Peter had left after us, but managed to make up time and joined us at Hallett a good hour after us.
We sat around a lovely camp fire, which was to be the first of many. As we sat there and it started to get quite cold, we could feel the dew coming down on us. I picked up a top from the back of Barry’s chair when we went to bed and it was quite wet.
After much deliberation, we agreed to head into Port Augusta the next morning to see if we could find anyone who could fix the brake. It meant we would have to leave about 5.30am.
29th June 5.20 am -2 degrees
After a reasonable night’s sleep, we got up about 4.00am to a thick fog. A nice hot shower warmed us up.
It was difficult driving in the dark and the very thick fog and we were on the lookout for anything that moved. By the time the sun came up, it was still not warm, but much better driving conditions.
At Terowie, we stopped and checked the brakes. All was well. So it should be at –2 degrees. Barry wanted to drive down Horrocks Pass before there was too much traffic, as we didn’t have the brakes working. We managed to negotiate all the bends and steep descents quite well and Barry gave a sigh of relief when we reached the bottom without any mishaps. At around 8.10am, we arrived at Port Augusta, pretty good timing. However, wherever we went to get help, they either didn’t do brakes, or were booked out.
Only one man was sympathetic to our cause and he said he had his week filled up within the first hour of opening that morning. Why didn’t we try him first? Well, you only find out these things from the ones who can’t help you.
After feeling deflated that we couldn’t get anyone to even look at the brakes, we decided to just go on as we were and continue to check the brakes periodically and hope for the best. After all, we had brakes on one side after cutting the wires to the brake on the offending side,
We got some supplies and met up with the others on the road. Our stay that night was to be the Woomera Tourist Village, a fancy name for the only caravan park in town. When we arrived at the park, we found Ken, Lucie and Gemma already there. While talking to them, we noticed Leigh and Christine camped just down and over a bit. Once we were all set up, we had the introductions. There were six people from the Jackaroo Club and six friends. Our stay here was to be for two nights.
30th June Woomera
Ken, Lucie and Gemma decided not to stay in Woomera, but to go and meet their friends from home. They had already been here for two nights. Leigh and Christine decided to go to Coober Pedy and have a look around. The remaining group went into the township. We walked in as Peter had his rooftop tent up and the rest of us still had our vans hitched up. Our first destination was the rocket park. Here we saw a big display of assorted rockets, aircraft, bombs and other military equipment. The Museum was also of interest. It was full of interesting equipment and history, with plenty of photographs, records, etc.
On then to the Information Centre where we looked at the interactive display of life at Woomera. It was very informative and well done. We enjoyed quite a nice lunch at the only hotel in town, before some of us went into the supermarket to see if we could get any party items to take with us out on the track.
all setup at Woomera
A significant birthday was approaching for Cleve and Gemma was planning a surprise party for Lucie for her birthday on 11th July. This created lots of excitement as we sourced goodies. We had noticed each night, Jupiter was getting closer to the Moon. I asked Gemma if she had noticed and she explained that Jupiter would get closest to the Moon on 30th June and would then start to move away. I asked her how she knew this and learned they were told about it at school. Obviously someone listened.
Woomera – Rocket Park
Woomera today is still a test range for Defence to trial and test defence systems, including bombs, missiles, rockets, aircraft, UAVs and electronic warfare systems that may be needed to defend Australia. The ADF is always testing new and current aircraft and other defence systems to ensure they are always working as they are supposed to. The test range covers 127,000 square kms, an area roughly the size of England. It uses many items of special equipment, such as high speed cameras and optical trackers. Other countries also use the range from time to time for testing. Each year 50 – 60 trials are conducted at Woomera.
1st July 9.15am 6 degrees
It was 1° inside the Tvan at 7.00am this morning.
Len & Anne Beadell Memorial
After passing Camp Rapier Military Base, with its extremely high chain wire fence, we headed off to see Len and Anne Beadell’s grave/monument. Someone had visited previously and placed a bunch of native flowers on the grave. Len’s remains were moved here from the site of the original survey peg to mark the centre line of the Woomera range. Anne’s ashes were interned here in April 2011.
We were fortunate enough to meet Len and Anne’s family at Hawker on Dave Dobson’s Googs Track trip. A wonderful night was spent talking around a fire with the family. As we walked around the cemetery, we were amazed at the ages on the headstones. There were a large number of stillbirths and very young children. Even the adults didn’t seem to live to an old age. Down at the bottom of the cemetery were some new graves.
We came across the Lake Hart Rest area. The reflections of the hills and trees in the water were beautiful. A number of caravans were camped here even though there were no toilet facilities. Some of us needed fuel, so we continued on to Glendambo to fuel up and grab some snacks, etc. Lunch was on the side of the road at a very busy truck stop.
The Sturt Highway is a very good road to travel on, with sections of dead looking small trees, small saltbush, native grasses and small bushes lining the road. The sky had patches of small clouds as the temperature hit 18° at 1.00pm.
We drove into Coober Pedy for more fuel and supplies (including things we had forgotten) and met up with Ken, Lucie, Gemma, Leigh and Christine. We also caught up with Sharon and Chris, friends of Ken and Lucie. We had travelled with them to the Kimberleys in 2013.
When we arrived at the Stuart Ranges Caravan Park, we noticed the line to book in was almost back to the highway. As we had already booked in over the phone, I decided to walk down to the reception area. Since we were last here, it had become a Big4 park (Aspen). Finally, we set up camp and relaxed.
Soon we heard excited voices. Cleve and Jenny had come across their friends, Norm and Pat, who were doing some of the trip we were doing. They were very well set up for the trip. After dinner, we all gathered for a pre-trip information session. We were all excited about what/where our trip was going to take us. The camp ground was undergoing refurbishment (which has been going on since we were here in 2013). There was still a lot more to be done. The smell from the sewerage (or whatever) lingered in the air. It was a bit of a turn off for an otherwise nice park. You would think they would have invested money into this problem first.
There we must leave Linda’s report for this month. Next month the trip starts in earnest
Linda McElhenny reports:
On a beautiful sunny, but cool, Saturday morning we all met at Gaffneys Bakery in Heathcote for coffee before setting off at 9.30am for the Redcastle Cemetery.
Although, some were torn between manual labour and the Heathcote Market, which looked to be of a considerable size, complete with local produce, craft items, etc.
The area had had a fair amount of recent rain and on a track not far from the cemetery gates, in true 4×4 fashion we had to traverse water. (Well, maybe a big long stretch of puddles). It was enough though, to put a nice grey slick on the 4by.
With great enthusiasm, we got out our various pieces of equipment – chain saws, whipper snippers, rakes, weed sprayers, etc. There were saplings to be cut down, weeds to be snipped from around
the graves, fallen trees to be cut up and lots of fetching and carry- ing of debris to either the fire, or the green waste pile.
Glenda’s sharp eye and spotted some small agave cactus, which would have filled a bucket. This find piqued interest in others who also found more cactus.
They were so small they were hard to spot. All our years of tending the cemetery have paid off with such a small regrowth of the agave. Graeme recalled in the early years, the cemetery was quite overrun with it.
With everyone working diligently, we had most of the work done before lunch. A great bonfire, lit to get rid of the dried wood, pro- vided us with some lovely coals for our sausage sizzle.
Graeme and Gayle prepared and cooked the sausages and supplied salad, cheese bread and rolls. A pumpkin and sultana cake and chocolate biscuits followed. Yummy!
After a final look around and a clean up of the last of the debris, it was time to head home. We left after a great day, tired but happy with what we had achieved.
Colin, Margaret & Kerri Ritchie
Wayne & Christine Scholes
Michael & Jan Martin (2nd day)
Margaret Ritchie reports:
With a very grey start to the day, we all set off from the bakery (where else) at Granville and travelled down the highway towards Phillip Island. The day was designed to be very relaxing looking at some of the interesting sights and finding some of the fauna and flora around Phillip Island.
We took a short detour just before San Remo to admire the view from the top of a hill overlooking Westernport Bay. Due to fog and mist, this was a bit of a fizzer, but a good view of Cape Woolamai could be seen. It was then in to the back of San Remo and across the bridge to Newhaven, where we were to pick up our volunteer guide for the day. My daughter Kerri has lived on the Island for some time and was a ranger with the National Park for many years, so she has a good knowledge of the area.
A short trip across the road from the Information Centre is the Chocolate Factory. Too much to choose from and a little pricey, but we had been told their curries are very good. From there we made a quick stop at the Koala Conservation Centre, where Kerri told us a bit of the history of some of the original vegetation still standing there. She also spoke of the koalas on the Island and why their numbers are declining.
Cowes was next and we had a short drive down the main street, then walked out to the end of the jetty.
By then it was time for lunch, so we were on the move again to Red Rocks Beach. This spot is only a short distance from where Kerri lives, so Colin and I know this beach very well. It is a very good picnic area with toilet facilities and amazing views across to the Mornington Peninsula. We had the whole area to ourselves and got the cameras clicking.
After lunch, a walk along the beach was a must. As we were walking, we could hear gunfire from the Naval Training Academy (Cerberus) just across the bay. Luckily, they weren’t pointing our way! Following this very relaxing lunch stop, we headed off towards Swan Lake. This is the only freshwater lake on the Island and abounds with birdlife. While the others walked into the lake, I waited in the information area. Even in that small area, I saw wrens, spinebills, honeyeaters, thornbills, red browed finches and the list goes on. There were birds everywhere.
When the others returned, they reported they had spotted many different birds, including one which required homework as no-one could identify it.
(Later that night, Colin and Kerri and a bird identification book, decided it was a white fronted chat, a bird not usually seen in the area.)
After Swan Lake, it was a short drive down to the famous Nobbies for a stroll along the boardwalk.
Most of the nesting birds had left the area at this time of the year and unfortunately, there were no late chicks left to see. We spent some time in the Nobbies Centre watching the seals out on the rocks via cameras placed out there. Their gift shop also attracted our members.
From the Nobbies, we followed a little known road around the coast that cuts through the old Summerlands Estate. The Government has been gradually buying back these lots for more than twenty years and has finally removed the last house from the penguin colony. The work being done to re-introduce the penguins to the area is obvious, with new nesting boxes and grasses planted everywhere. From the cliff overlooking Summerland Bay, where the penguins come in every night of the year just after sunset, Kerri gave us some information on the Little (or Fairy) penguin. Did you know that they always swim west towards Phillip Bay from Phillip Island? Or that they can stay at sea for up to three weeks and that they mate for life?
There is a count done by the rangers of the penguins as they come ashore each night. The count for the night before was 1,156. The count is done from the minute the first group of five or more penguins crosses the beach and the count lasts for fifty minutes. Why fifty minutes? As Kerri explained, most of the birds come ashore within that time. All across the area, there are many thousands of penguins coming ashore on any night, but only those at the parade stands are counted. From this count, the rangers are able to assess whether there are any problems with the colony.
The view from above the Penguin Parade is quite spectacular. One can look back along the coast towards Cape Woolamai and Pyramid Rock in the distance.
Back on the main road, we passed the famous and very beautiful Phillip Island Grand Prix Motor Racing Track. There were races taking place, but we were unable to stop and watch as it was getting a bit late in the day and tents still had to be erected.
We said our goodbyes for the day at the Newhaven Information Centre and took our guide back to her car.
Wayne, Chris and Tom were all staying at the caravan park in Newhaven, so they didn’t have far to travel. Colin and I headed home to Wonthaggi, about thirty five minutes away. By the way, if you have ever wondered why some of the dead kangaroos along the side of a road have a pink cross on them, it is to tell others that their pouches have been checked to make sure there are no live young in them. If a young joey is found alive, it is taken to a volunteer wildlife shelter and, hopefully, reared to adulthood whereupon it is released back in the area where it was found.
Christine Scholes reports:
Sunday morning started for us at about 5.00am with a huge thunder clap right over the top of us. It was followed by heavy rain. Great! Now we would have a wet tent to pack up. By brekkie time, the rain had eased back to a light drizzle. But we still had a messy pack up, so much so, that we were a bit late for our meeting time.
After meeting the others at Bass, where Michael and Jan Martin joined the trip, the group left at 10.30am, which wasn’t too bad all things considered. Our morning trip took us to the new desalination plant, then on to Kilcunda Beach, the trestle bridge and finally to the State Coal Mine historic No.20 shaft.
Here, in 1937, thirteen miners were killed in an underground collapse. (After living in the area for many years, this was the first time our trip leader Margaret had been there.)
From there it was on to the Wonthaggi Information Centre and then collected Molly, Colin and Margaret’s dog. She joined us for the afternoon. Our lunch stop was at the State Coal Mine picnic area, a pleasant relaxing stop.
After lunch, we went through the museum, which was most interesting (and free!) and saw the most amazing vegetable garden and chicken run. I wish it was mine! It was then back on the road and off to Eagles Nest to view the coastline from Venus Bay to Inverloch. We left the coast and travelled north through the most beautiful rolling green hills through Kongwak, Glen Alvie and on to Kernot. Here we stopped for afternoon tea among the quaint inhabitants of Gnomesville, Frog Hollow and Fairy Dell.
During our break, Margaret received a phone call from Kerri with the news that a heavy thunder storm was heading our way. We quickly decided to call it a day and head off on our separate ways home. It was a disappointing end to what had been an interesting and great day.
Thanks to Colin, Margaret and Kerri (and Molly) for a well planned trip.
On Saturday 13 November dawn broke with heavy rain. As trip leaders, we were aiming to get to KooWeeRup before the rest of the group but the continuing rain required caution and we found two vehicles already there by 8.50 am.
The trip briefing was conducted in the bus shelter at the KooWeeRup bus interchange. We planned to follow the route of the abandoned KooWeeRup – Strzelecki Railway line so some history on the railway was in order to set the scene. Local farmers in the district had campaigned for many years for a railway to access the area around McDonalds track south of Warragul to enable farmers to receive stores and send produce to market. However over the years from the late 1870s the succession of petitions and plans were all somewhat different and it was not until 1914 that the KooWeeRup to McDonalds Track Railway Bill was passed by the state government. This was hardly a propitious time to commence construction (due to the commencement of WW1) and it was not until 1919 that work actually commenced. Light construction techniques were used with horse drawn buckets and bullock drays. The line was placed on the ground without much ballast. The line was finally opened at Strzelecki on 29 June 1922. Before leaving the KooWeeRup car park we noted the area where the engine shed and turntable were located at the end of the car park.
We travelled to Bayles where the only remaining evidence of the station was the weighbridge (right). Bayles was named after the first member of the construction team to have been killed at Gallipoli. The KooWeeRup district was famous for its potatoes, and the notice board adjacent to the weighbridge tells the story.
It was then onto the next station on the route – Catani, which was named after Carlo Catani, the engineer responsible for the major drainage works that made the hitherto swamps in the KooWeeRup district into productive fields for dairy and crops. There was little to identify the next station at Herne Hill on the Western Port Rd just west of the Lang Lang River.
The Railway continued up the river valley to Athlone station which was the site of a saw mill for the local Blackwood timber. We travelled along Clifton Road that for a km or so actually followed the railway bed through a cutting.
With light rain falling our convoy turned south and then east on Lang Lang Park Rd to the Main South Rd where we continued south with the railway route a km or so to the west. The roadbed was clearly visible at the site of Triholm station that is now marked with a farmer’s shed on the raised embankment with a simulated Victorian Railways sign on its side. (Triholm was a Danish settlement with roads named after local Danish families). The railway formation crossed our road route heading east a couple of km further on. We headed east along Waterfall Gully Rd while the railway made two crossings of the road.
The railway was out of sight from the road for this last section of about 5 km as it followed the contour of the adjacent steep hills. Through the rain showers we could barely see much of the lush green paddocks filled with contented cows.
We travelled north on the Warragul Korumburra Rd and turned east into Wild Dog Valley Rd. The farm shed and buildings now mark the site of the old Strzelecki Station. A 100 m or so further east, the pit of the turntable was discernible in the scrub. We had now completed travelling the 48 km route and were about 200 m elevation above KooWeeRup. In viewing the site today we can wonder at the wisdom in placing a station and sidings in such a location on a steep side slope on a hill that apparently required extensive earth works to construct. The farmers would have had to cart all their produce uphill to Strzelecki station but in compensation it was all downhill getting their stores back home!
Due to declining rail traffic, increasing road traffic and dubious accounting practices in recording revenue attributed to this branch, the railway was closed in stages. Strzelecki – Triholm closed in 1931 a mere 9 years after opening. Athlone to Triholm closed 10 years later in 1941. The last remaining section to Bayles station closed in 1959. We are left with the thought that perhaps if the railway was constructed 20 years earlier when the residents demanded it, then maybe it might have had a more profitable existence and illustrious history.
From the Strzelecki station site we travelled north and east in mist to Moonlight Picnic Ground in Mt Worth State Park for lunch. Lunch was taken under the picnic shelter with the heavy mist (drizzle) falling around us. A lone member of our group, having finished his lunch, decided to stride off on a walking track to see the giant trees saying that this wouldn’t take long. He took a map of walking tracks in the park area but found that he was going in the wrong direction and returned a few minutes later taking another path while the rest of us finished our luncheon. The rest of us then took the loop track to see the giant trees, ferns and the remains of the many timber mills with their rusting boilers that filled the valleys here.
So with 8 members back at the vehicles at the appointed departure time we were still missing our lone walker who was well past his announced return time. Fearing the worst, the 8 members decided to mount 2 search parties of 2 males each with a CB radio. The ladies remained at the vehicles keeping radio contact with each search party. Unfortunately due to the mountainous terrain radio communication dropped off after about 500 m. It was sobering to note that shouting and the vehicle horns were lost in the bush after about 400 m. The classic Coo-Eees were equally smothered by the wet trees and ferns. The group had asked a few other people in the area whether they had sighted our lone walker but no more information was available. We had set a time of 3 pm before we would start to call for outside assistance. Fortunately, while the two search parties were still out, our lone walker finally returned to the vehicles and admitted to losing his way after searching for his misplaced camera. With the return of the search parties it was time to check for leeches. This required a strip down search to get those little suckers out from remote personal areas!
Now running a couple of hours later than scheduled, we headed off in the mist to Mirboo North from where we then took the Grand Ridge Rd east. The first 15 km was on smooth bitumen along the aptly named route. The views either side of the road would have been magnificent if the weather was more favourable as we had noted on the pre-trip. So here is a view of the Alpacas in the sunshine a week before.
The Mountain Ash Springboard tree was found on the north side of the road. Its height of 163 ft was climbed by J.Pattinson in 1927 using 54 springboards. The remains of the holes for the springboards can still be seen.
Reaching Balook and the Tarra Valley Bulga National Park we took the narrow winding C484 south to the FernholmeTarraValleyTouristPark. With the forecast poor weather in the days leading up to the trip, the group had wisely chosen to take the option of sharing a couple of cabins. We gathered in one cabin for drinks and nibbles while we solved the world’s problems. These cabins proved to be snug and comfy particularly during the heavy rain overnight. Thank goodness we hadn’t decided to brave it in tents!!
Note the origin of these two parks. In 1903 the Alberton Shire Council asked State Government to reserve an area of forest with fern gullies near Balook as a public park. Twenty hectares were reserved in 1904 and given the Aboriginal name Bulga, meaning “mountain”. Five years later, 303 hectares of forest within the Tarra Valley were temporarily reserved. This park was named after Charlie Tarra, Count Strzelecki’s Aboriginal guide. In 1986 the two area were joined and enlarged through a land exchange with private industry.
The Sunday morning dawned reasonably fine and we travelled back up the winding road pausing at the Tarra Falls which were more a slide than falls and were somewhat disappointing when seen from the viewing area. Up in the Bulga Park Information Centre we saw examples of the local flora (ferns) and fauna. Also displayed were period photographs of the sawmilling in the area. A 10 minute slideshow showcased some interesting local scenes through various weathers. Then it was on to cross the famed Corrigan suspension bridge across the valley of giant ferns. We then walked down through the valley marvelling at the tree ferns reaching up to the sky while at our feet on the damp valley floor there were many types of fungi. In leaving the Tarra – Bulga National Parks we reflected on the foresight of the local residents and shire councillors who petitioned the government in the early 1900s to retain this natural area as a park for all people to enjoy.
Then we travelled north to Mount Tassie. At 750 m this is the highest point in the Strzelecki ranges and commands a splendid view of the Latrobe valley. Unfortunately the bushfires in the surrounding area, and the subsequent clearing up of the fallen trees, had reduced the magnificent green forest area in some directions to bulldozed rows of downed fire blackened trees. Nevertheless the sky was blue with little wind while we had lunch here beneath the radio towers (with no flies around). After lunch we descended the mountain and drove east through the marked area of giant trees and old sawmill site and then through Calignee – the site of recent horrific bush fires. It was then agreed that rather than visit some other historic sites we would make our way directly back to Melbourne in the fine weather and so we wound up our convoy and entered the Princes Hwy to make our way home.
Tumut at the end of April! Brr. Just thinking about it made me want to get another jumper. Poor N.S.W. found Easter falling at this time when it was their turn to arrange the annual Easter Tri-State Gathering. But one should not let pre-conceptions cloud ones actions. And so it proved.
Sure, it got cold at night, but the days were lovely – calm and fine and the Tumut Showgrounds proved a more than adequate venue. Victoria’s numbers were down, 13 vehicles compared with (from memory) 19 from South Australia and 24 from the host state.
I had just taken delivery of a new camper trailer the Friday before, so it was with some apprehension we set off for Tumut. Could we put it up without breaking anything? Would we be warm enough? What would we leave behind?
As I said, pre-conceptions should not … We decided to take our time to get to Tumut, hence we left on the Wednesday and stayed overnight in Wangaratta.
Being a well known wimp from way back, we stayed in a cabin that night, with the camper parked out the front! I don’t know what our neighbours thought, but what the heck.
From Wangaratta, we took the scenic route around Lake Hume, through Corryong, Tumbarumba and on to Tumut. Twelve months ago, I believe Lake Hume was down to something like 8% full. I was astounded then, to drive past and find that I doubt whether one more drop could be put in it. There was certainly no tell tale brown line between the water level and the grass. My mind was left to ponder how much water it took to fill the dam, given its area and depth. My brain hurts when I think about it.
Corryong is a pleasant country town, dining out on the Man From Snowy River legend. Nevertheless, a great lunch spot. Walking around town, we came upon a plaque dedicated to some local who swam the length of the Murray River from nearby to Lake Alexandrina in South Australia. Not a bad effort, given I’m flat walking to the front to get the paper!
Beyond Corryong, the road starts to climb and some of the gradients are a bit steep. The Pathie knew it was pulling something. Just past the little town of Tooma is a lookout and a memorial to the lives lost in the crash of the Southern Cloud. This was an episode of Australian aviation history I was only vaguely aware of. It is a most interesting story and worth a separate article.
The next town of substance is Tumbarumba and Jill was most interested to visit the Pioneer Womens Museum, which is some 8kms out of Tumbarumba on the road to Wagga Wagga. So, being a caring, obedient husband, we did a leftie off the main road and headed out for the museum, which we found with no difficulty. The day was Wednesday and the museum is not open on … Wednesdays! Oh Well. So back to Tumbarumba and continue our journey to Tumut through the apple town of Batlow.
The entrance gates to the Tumut Showgrounds welcomed us, as did the N.S.W. organisers. Complete with “show bag” and directions, we pulled up at our allotted site. “Ten minutes”, the camper trailer salesman said when asked how long it takes to put the outfit up. Ninety minutes later we were settled in our camp chairs, under our annex, enjoying a freshly brewed coffee. Next time we’ll be quicker… won’t we?
At five o’clock the word was passed around that Happy Hour would get away unless we all gathered around. So we did.
It was great to catch up with the interstate faces we’d met at Tolmie, as well as the faces we’d met at our monthly meetings. The inevitable raffle was conducted and the trip sheets for the next day displayed. That night, our new camper got tested for “waterproofness”, as we had some extended periods of rain. It came through with flying colours, although in the morning, we found that one of the annex poles was a little higher than it should have been and a large pool had formed in the annex roof. Warning. Don’t stand outside your annex when you empty this pool. The water does not care that you have just put on some dry, warm clothes. Oops. Still, that’s the fun of camping … isn’t it?
There were several trips on offer today (Good Friday), most to different parts of the surrounding ranges. The one that interested Jill and I though, was a guided tour of Gundagai and its history. Gundagai is one of those towns you bypass without a second thought. Most people would only associate it with The Dog Sitting on the Tuckerbox. Our guide was Marie, who grew up locally and her family are well recorded in Gundagai’s annals. She certainly knew her stuff.
The original settlement of Gundagai was built on the river flats of the Murrumbidgee River, despite the warnings of the local aborigines of big floods. What would they know said the Europeans. Sure enough, in June 1852 came the flood of which the locals natives had warned. Except for a flour mill, the entire town was swept away with 83 lives lost, including one of Marie’s antecedents. A lesson learned, the town was rebuilt further up the hill and flourished due firstly to gold, then to the wool boom of the 1920s.
Floods though, are still part of Gundagai’s psyche Talking to one of the locals, I heard of the latest flood in February, which came up to the steps of his front porch. “Just part of life here,” he said, as he told me of a friend of his who had cut 180 bales of hay a week before the inundation. “All but 14 were swept away and you can see the remains of some of them over there,” as he pointed out some scraps of blue plastic hanging from the lower branches of some trees.
Marie took us out onto the river flats to show us a plaque highlighting the centre of the original township and the layout of the streets. From here, we could also get an appreciation of the work which went into two surviving trestle bridges – one for the railway and the other for the road. The road bridge has been closed due to its condition, but one can still walk across the other. We left the river flats and climbed to a lookout on top of a hill overlooking Gundagai and the surrounding countryside. The Murrumbidgee and its flats could be easily identified snaking through its broad valley.
Also prominent were the aforementioned trestle bridges and the new concrete bridge which allows the Hume Highway to bypass Gundagai. Returning to ground level, we parked behind the Visitor Centre and Marie arranged for us to see the Marble Masterpiece. I must be honest, I had never heard of this, but, having now seen it, I would recommend it if you are in the area. The Marble Masterpiece is the work of a local stone mason, Frank Rusconi and took 28 painstaking years to complete. It is an imaginary Baroque Italian palace, comprised of nearly 21 thousand intricately carved pieces of local marble. It is 1.2 metres high Each piece was meticulously chosen for its colour and veining so that it complemented the whole. Twenty different varieties of N.S.W. marble were used by Rusconi. So particular was he that it is said he discarded more than 9,000 pieces as not of the required standard. Within the same room is a scale model of an altar the man had made for St. Marie’s cathedral outside Paris. Again the same patient, painstaking workmanship was evident. You leave the room with admiration for the spirit and devotion of skilled tradesmen like Rusconi and their work. Marie then left us to explore the town on our own and have lunch.
Armed with a map of a walking tour we obtained from the Visitor Centre, we wandered through the streets of Gundagai. Although there were a number of pre 1900 buildings such as the school, town hall and churches, the overall impression of the town was Art Deco. Marie said this would have come about from the prosperity brought to the town by the booming wool industry in the 1920s. We gathered again at 2.00pm to continue our tour. The next part I was particularly interested in.
Those of you who were on my first Bacchus Marsh trip might remember me talking about Andrew Scott, one of the earliest preachers at the Presbyterian Church there, who went on to become the bushranger, Captain Moonlite. After his escapades in Victoria, including a spell in Pentridge prison, Scott migrated to the Gundagai district and found himself in serious trouble. In true Kelly style, in 1879 Scott and his cronies took hostages on a farm and following a shootout with police, was captured, tried and subsequently hanged. He requested that he be buried with his friends who had died in the shootout and his request was granted. Marie took us to the cemetery and his grave, which, surprisingly, is well maintained and in a prime position high up the hill.
The icon of Gundagai of course, is the Dog on the Tuckerbox sculpture, so a visit to the area could not miss it. And we didn’t. At first we could not enter the reserve due to the queue of cars stretching back out on to the highway. What on earth! Marie then took us past the entrance and further on to a later road which brought us back in from the other way. From this aspect we could see the cause of the queue – petrol! Marie informed us that there is no petrol in Gundagai and that this is the only outlet in the area. Hence the number of customers. Fuel was not on our agenda and, luckily, nor was food because that wasn’t available here. But we did see and photograph “the dog”. From the information boards, it appears the dog in the original story may not have SAT on the tuckerbox but done something sounding close to that!
We returned to Tumut via the back roads that follow the Tumut River valley. A scenic drive made interesting by coming across a pony club gathering with young riders and their horses around each corner. A very satisfying trip and we all thanked Marie for providing such an interesting tour.
Another Happy Hour, another raffle, a cold night and then it was Saturday. Looking through the trips on offer, I noticed one to Paddy’s River Falls which went through Tumbarumba. The return leg was a forest drive. Some members who had done the trip the day before said the forest drive was … well a forest drive. So Jill and I joined the trip and told the trip leader we would leave the trip after the falls and try again to visit the Pioneer Womens Museum at Tumbarumba We lined up for the trip in the morning, signed ourselves in and waited for the pre-trip meeting. A familiar face appeared wearing a N.S.W. official’s vest and told us he would be the navigator for the trip. Our erstwhile Past President, John Dudley, had “defected” and was going to ride with the trip leader and show us the way. Apparently Nancy and the trip leader’s wife wanted to go shopping, so John stepped in to become “wife” for a day and thereby got the navigator’s gig.
We set off on a lovely sunny morning and soon found ourselves on a scenic road running along a ridge with views on either side. Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves among the extensive apple orchards of the Batlow district. The climate and soil obviously are ideal for apples around here, for the orchards stretched away on both sides of the road. Our “trusty” navigator soon had us at a camping ground for morning tea and a toilet break. We did not stay long as the camp was very popular and parking was at a premium. The trip notes said “time has passed Tumbarumba by and so will we.”
So we drove through Tumbarumba and continued on to the falls. Although we could not see them, as we parked the vehicles we could hear the falls loud and clear. A short walk took us to a lookout over the falls. There is something about waterfalls that I find mesmerising and so it was here. Our trip leader told us that when they first pre-tripped this site, there was only a trickle going over the drop. The volume of water going over on this day backed up the volume of sound we’d heard emanating from the falls. A grand sight. There was a steep path down to the base of the falls and, if one was game and had good grip on their shoes, you could go behind the falls into a shallow cave and look out through the water. Although a few of our group ventured down the path, no-one tried to get behind.
From the falls, Paddy’s River continues on down through a scenic forested gorge and apparently there is a good walk along the river through this area. Lunch however, was more important to our troup. After lunch, we returned to Tumbarumba while the rest went off for their drive through the Bago Forest.
The museum Jill was seeking was open and, while I caught up with the newspapers sitting in the sun, she perused the exhibits. After an hour, she came out enthused and after our return to camp, recommended it to anybody who would listen.
From there we returned via our outward bound tracks to the junction with the Tumut road. It never ceases to amaze me how a track can look so different when you traverse it in the reverse way. And so it was with this road. As we travelled along this road, we could hear the rest of our convoy on the UHF as they traversed the forest. Obviously, they weren’t too far away from us. At the intersection, instead of turning right to Tumut, we turned left to Adelong, an old gold mining town and cruised into a little town which has seen better days. The museum though, was interesting and highlighted its gold mining history. But also of interest was photos and some amateur film of a flood which hit the town late last year. Bridges and streets many, many metres above the piddling little creek were inundated. Just mind boggling to think how we cannot control Mother Nature.
The volunteers at the museum gave us a screed on the mine about a kilometre out of town and recommended we visit the site. So we did and, from a lofty lookout, were able to see over the site and what remains of the buildings and the equipment. The recent flood had washed away some of the ruins. The very good information boards filled in the gaps of our knowledge. We caught up with some of our original convoy here. They had completed the journey through the forest and come out to look at the old mine. They took the walk down to the creek bed, but we decided to go back to camp.
Happy Hour that night had two surprises. Firstly, a local winery had a wine tasting on offer and most partook. The wines were pretty good and good sales were made. At the end of Happy Hour and the seemingly interminable raffle, the organisers had arranged for a local identity and author to give a little talk. Harry Hill, an octogenarian who had lived in the area all his life and been a bushwalker for most of that, kept us enthralled with his tales. He proved to be a real raconteur with his tales and humour. His knowledge of local events and incidents was unsurpassed. He was the sort of fellow you could ask a question of and he would entertain you for the next ten minutes. The hour, or so, he spoke went far too quickly and the supply of some of the books he had written went very quickly.
It was back to camp for a bite to eat before returning for the evening’s entertainment. NSW had booked a band as I understand it and they rang at the last minute to say they had been doubly booked. A quick phone call and an experienced fellow with his daughter filled in at the last minute. He did a good job, had a well trained voice and spent most of the night fielding requests. I thought he would have done better to sing his own songs, but that is a minor criticism. All in all, a very satisfying day.
Next morning, I went out to the Pathie to find the Easter Bunny had found us with a couple of Easter eggs on the wipers. They were gratefully accepted and consumed. A couple of short morning trips were listed so that everybody could be back in time for the afternoon games on the oval. Jill and I decided that, as we had never been to Yarrangobilly Caves and no trips were listed to go there, we would take the opportunity, while we were in the area, to visit same. The caves are a little under one hour’s drive from Tumut and the road skirts the Blowering Dam. The N.S.W. people told me that, like Lake Hume, this dam had dropped to around 10% capacity. Not now. It looked pretty full to me and was a great sight as we drove on. This drive had some steep, winding climbs and according to the GPS, at times we were over 1400 metres above sea level.
The caves, as you would expect for Easter, were very popular. You have to book cave tours and we were concerned whether there would be any spots left for the cave we wished to see. But, as luck would have it, we scored the last two spots. The cave we signed up for is the largest in the group, but is only open for certain days at Christmas and Easter. The reason given is that the lighting is old and not up to contemporary standards. It is about to undergo a complete lighting upgrade. I love caves and this one was no exception. The tour was about an hour and a quarter long and took us through many chambers and tunnels. Again, one can only wonder about Mother Nature’s ability to outdo anything homo sapiens can come up with. The stalactites (they come down from the roof), the stalagmites (they rise from the floor), shawls, straws and other intricate creations from the limestone impregnated water seeping into the cave, are a marvel to be appreciated. Soon enough, the tour was over and we found a quiet picnic spot to have lunch.
Despite the crowds around the lower reserve, we only had a bird orchestra for company. The drive in the Reserve is one way only and on the way out passes a number of lookouts, each of which was worth pausing at. Soon it was time to return to camp and get ready for the traditional Sunday evening dinner.
The dress up theme for the dinner was the letter “A” and the creativity and imagination of the participants was amazing. All sorts of “A”s walked through the door. The one that caught my eye was a lady with a basket of model planes and she came as an “aircraft carrier”. I liked that. Because of our lack of numbers, Victoria had not scored well in the various categories for the perpetual trophy, or ‘block of wood’ as it was called. But we did take out the best dressed prize at the dinner. The Warburton trio, Les, Norma and Ray, came as Alice in Wonderland. Les was dressed as the White Rabbit, Norma as Alice and Ray was a convincing Mad Hatter. They looked truly amazing and were worthy winners. Not content with winning that prize, they were constantly going forward to collect raffle prizes. They had a great night.
The dinner was catered for by a local ladies auxiliary and they did a fine job providing a three course meal. Simon Smith from South Australia announced that the venue for next Easter’s Tri-State would be Whyalla. Huh! We all thought. But as Simon went through the things planned and in the pipeline, it sounds exciting. We’ll be there. The “Block of Wood” was once again won by South Australia, although there was some discussion as to whether they should have points deducted because the trophy was not brought to Tumut. It had been “mislaid” apparently.
Next day was Anzac Day and a number of early risers went off to the local Dawn Service. A little later, a small convoy headed into town for the march. It had been our intention to do the trip to Blue Water Holes, but that was cancelled and so we signed up for the Goobarragandra trip, which was going through a similar area. The first part of the trip covered the same roads as yesterday’s visit to the Yarrangobilly Caves. But where we turned right for the caves, this trip turned left on to Long Plains Road. Soon after turning, we aired down, then proceeded on to the Long Plain Hut for morning tea. This “hut” used to be the homestead of one of the earlier settlers and is a popular camping spot, particularly for horse riders. In fact, we were intrigued to read a notice reporting the “loss” of two horses, both saddled and equipped for riding. One suspects the “loss” may not have been accidental. The corner of the building had suffered severe damage and was fenced off. The repairs were being done by the Canberra Land Rover Club. We found out later that the damage was done by some drunken hoons, who had attached their winches to the corner and tried to tear the building down. It’s instances like this where you think abortion should be made retrospective!
After our rest, we continued along Long Plains Road and shortly thereafter, crossed a tiny rivulet with the sign “Murrumbidgee River” proudly standing above it. Hard to fathom that further downstream, this little waterway wiped out Gundagai so long ago. We then turned off to view the well preserved Coolamine Homestead and its outbuildings. This is the home of an early settler and the information boards scatter about the property tell the tale of the struggles to make a living in this alpine wilderness. As this road led to the Blue Waterholes, the trip leader asked if anyone wanted to go there. Naturally I put my hand up, but so too did most of the group. It was only a couple of kms further long the road. The waterholes get their distinctive blue colour from the natural copper which seeps into the creek. The colour was striking and a number of decent size fish could be seen in its waters.
This was another popular camping spot, but we found enough room to park the vehicles and have lunch. Following lunch, we headed back to Long Plains Road and continued our journey north. With the group’s consent, our trip leader said he would throw away the trip notes and take us on a bit of an adventure. And so we headed off into the scrub and the tracks became a little more adventurous. A few fallen trees that needed clearing, but nothing serious.
Soon we arrived at the crossing of the Emu Flat Creek. Now this did look serious. A small weir had been built across the creek and the river stones had piled up against this. The track here was only centimetres deep. But a metre or so, to the right of this was a deep hole. One of the South Australians, stripped down to his underpants and waded in to check its depth. His underpants got wet. Hmm! Now had I been on my own, I would have done a quick ten point turn and skedaddled out of there. However, our intrepid trip leader decided to give it a go and pushed on into the water. The creek level was at door sill level on the right hand side, but he motored through with no difficulty.
So one by one, we attacked the crossing. Then it was my turn. I don’t have a snorkel, but at least my air intake was on the left hand, or shallow side. So with heart in my mouth, I engaged Low 2 and pressed forward. Since buying my Pathie and getting involved in this four wheel drive lark, I continue to be confounded by the capabilities of these machines. The crossing was completed without missing a heartbeat and upon checking on the other side, not one drop of water had penetrated my door seals. I was glad I did it, because it just gives me that little bit more confidence for future occasions. One by one we made the crossing and were able to continue our adventures through the forest tracks. Soon enough, we reached the blacktop and found a little area where we could reinflate the tyres.
The road back to Tumut proved to be very scenic as we descended from the mountains and could look down the Tumut River valley and to the Alps beyond. At Happy Hour that night, we were informed that Harry Hill had agreed to come back after dinner and give us an illustrated talk of his bushwalking exploits over the years. Needless to say, there were no empty seats that night, although by now a number of campers had packed and returned home. Next day was our turn to pack and head back to Melbourne. We said our good byes and to our interstate friends, promised to meet them at Whyalla next year.
Quite a few of the Victorians were staying on for a day or two, or heading off for an extended holiday to other localities. But we had to go.
The highlights of the Gathering? Too many to mention, but without doubt the thing that thrilled me most was to see Rocky Tompkins there and making the most of it, despite his difficulties. And similarly, my disappointment was learning that Craig and Sue Findlay could not join us due to his hospitalisation. Hang in there you guys. Our thoughts are always with you.
The N.S.W. organising committee did a fantastic job and deserve our heartfelt congratulations. Given that last January they were seriously thinking of calling it off, they really came through with flying colours. Well done to all involved.
Now we look forward to Whyalla next year. Knowing the South Aussies, I reckon they will up with the goods too.
The group met at the McKenzie Reserve, Yarra Glen at 10.00 am and after the normal heart starters, headed off up the Melba Highway. It wasn’t long before we turned right off the highway on to the Old Toolangi Road. A few years ago, this was quite a rough and rocky road. It is now an easy gravel road which climbs up to meet the Healesville/Kinglake Road. It did however, provide excellent views of the mountain ranges and their recovery from the bush fires. I travelled through this area a few weeks after the fires and everything was burnt out. It was just grey ash. It’s amazing how different it is now, although because of the fierceness of the fire, there are many trees which will not recover.
Upon reaching the Healesville Road, I took the group up to the Forest Discovery Centre (not open on weekends) and pointed out the Yea River walk. This is a very pleasant walk along the river and through the forest. Along this route was the home of C.J. Dennis of Sentimental Bloke fame, from 1908 until his death in 1938. The house burned down in the 1960s, but his “Singing Gardens” remain and now feature tearooms.
We headed back to Spraggs Road, which leads into the Toolangi Forest and stopped at the turnoff to Victoria Range Road to lower tyre pressures. Continuing on, we passed Rocky Track, which, from experience a few years ago, was fairly hairy. I was tempted to go down and check while doing the pre-trip, however we were pressed for time. I think it’s a track which would be handy to have another vehicle present in case you needed assistance. A right turn took us up Wee Creek Track and its large “whoopsi dos”. A left turn took us on to Flat Rock Track (a new orange posted sign named it Flat Track) for numerous bog holes and lots of new growth of young gums and “Dusty Miller” plants.
All of this lush growth provided just enough room for one vehicle for over five kilometres. I did wonder what would happen if we met vehicles coming from the opposite direction. Fortunately, we didn’t. The only obstruction was branches from a large tree, which we had managed to clear enough to get through on the pre-trip. On leaving Flat Rock Track, we were back on Victoria Range Road and heading towards an intersection of a few tracks when we were flagged down by a chap in a Patrol. He wanted to know how to get out of the forest! After providing him with directions, we headed down Downies Road, Starlight Flats Track, Blowhard Road to the Mt. Tanglefoot car park.
Here we had lunch and were entertained by a pair of Flame Robins. There are walking tracks from this car park right up to Mt. St. Leonard, from memory, a six hour return walk. But we didn’t do it and, after cleaning up from lunch, headed off through Siberia Junction and on to the Murrundindi Road. At Xylophone Bridge, we crossed the Murrundindi River and continued up to the Cascades car park. This car park was destroyed in the bush fires but has since been reconstructed. A benefit of the fires is that you can now see the Cascades from the road. A new steel bridge is nearing construction across the Cascades.
Heading north past the camping sites, we turned into Falls Creek Road, then Black Range Road. Then it was time to engage low range and descend McClure Break.
McClure Break is a very steep and rocky descent, with great views of the Black Range. It drops 330 metres in a very short distance to the SEC Track with its high tension lines. It was then on to Ginten Road, past the old Stanley Homestead site, which had a large group of campers.
We were heading for Limestone and the historic Cheviot Railway tunnel when we came across a group of young people in four small hatchbacks who were unsuccessfully trying to find their way to a party using a Melways. They were amazed to find they had nearly driven to Yea. I pointed them in the right direction, although I was kind enough not to tell them to take the McClure Break.
We arrived at the Cheviot Tunnel, read about its history and then proceeded to travel through this 201 metre beautifully constructed brick tunnel. After airing up tyres and enjoying afternoon tea, we headed up Frogponds Road and back onto the Melba Highway.
The group then turned right into Kinglake Road and then travelled 14kms down the winding gravel Mt. Slide Road with its beautiful views.
This brought us to Jan and Michael’s newly refurbished home where we were given a cook’s tour before indulging in a BBQ dinner. Jan and Michael’s property has great views of the Yarra Ranges and Jan pointed out Mt. Tanglefoot and Mt. St. Leonard. I and I’m sure all of our party, were amazed at the transformation of the forty year old house into a modern day home. Jan and Michael could not be anything but extremely pleased at the outcome.
Harry and Jill, who could not come on the trip, arrived, determined not to miss a BBQ, a house inspection and some vino. The evening settled into a companionable chat and proved a great way to finish the day.
Thank you to Jan and Michael for opening up their home and providing an excellent way to finish our day out.
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